Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Moving on

I shan't be writing here anymore. While the posts here remain, I have copied them to a new location & will be writing, hereafter, only at
If you have enjoyed the words here, please do visit my new home & join me for a cup of Jasmine tea. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mirrored Selves

An elegant lady recently raised an oft cited point that there is a mind & a heart & they are neighbours in the colony of the individual's personality. I have viscerally failed to understand what I believe is an imposed dichotomy of convenience & I shall elaborate over this post.

When one instinctively picks winning stocks, we compliment the mind.
When a mother instinctively rushes to the kids' room, we cheer the mother's heart.

When one is tricked by an illusion, we chide the mind's eye.
When one is fooled into believing an illusion of love, we bemoan the heart's naiveté.

When one party tricks, we call his mind cunning.
When a party is tricked we call his a trusting heart.

When an individual admires the night sky & proceeds to understand the stars, we admire his mind.
When an individual admires the night sky & describes it in a poem, we sigh at his heart

When a man devises ways to make money, we call his mind shrewd.
When a man seeks ways to distribute his money, we call his heart generous.

Recalling a face, a memory, that night, the kindness - all of it is in the brain. Yet, we oust it from the podium where gentleness is celebrated. The minute the brain devises clever stratagems we declare it to be a work of the mind. The minute it recalls ardour & sobs we embrace the kind heart & proclaim that all that is good is not yet dead. Well, the heart that built the Taj Mahal also chopped off hands (a tale with no basis).

Kahneman in his seminal work on how the brain seems to work (primarily around decision theory) seems to indicate that what we popularly call of the heart is often in the realm of System 1 thinking of the mind. Nowhere does he call them out as mind & heart. Not that you must agree with him, but do give the poor scholar some credit.

I could well rush to call it all yin & yang & how a little of each stains the other & satisfy all our needs to be vague & placatory, but I am unable to draw a line where the mind ends & the heart begins, or vice versa. Sometimes kindness & sensitivity is a cultured response. An ignorant soul when exposed to the suffering of others, develops the requisite sensitivity & heart-felt, nay, mind-nurtured response. All our heart remains unaware of the predicament of cotton mill workers in Uzbekistan until we are exposed to their plight. Plenty of human sensitivity finds origin in education. Where a man is blamed for his uncouth behaviour, he is slighted for being poorly educated, a matter largely of the mind.

Where the mind is often pinned is in the vicinity of what Mr. Hofstadter calls "certain kinds of gooey lumps encased in hard protective shells mounted atop mobile pedestals that roam the world on pairs of slightly fuzzy, jointed stilts". The heart, safely, is bookmarked near the eponymous sanguine pump. While the mind is rational, cold, blood-thirsty & exacting in its measured persona, the heart is throbbing, warm, gentle, loving & so vaguely absent-minded in any measure & in every measure. One evokes sympathy & a billion dollar romance industry. The other evokes hushed objurgation & a multi-billion dollar industry of commerce & financial transactions. Where one lulls a babe to sleep, the other rings the young to rush to work.

It is difficult to exclude a scientific enquiry into this matter but I shall abstain to the fullest of my ability.

All our perceptions & observations are through our senses, rooted in the brain (I'd say the central nervous system as well, but let's call all that the "brain"). What the brain receives as stimuli the brain processes to distill as insight, learning and/or method. All exposure to this world is through the senses & most of our responses are our interpretive volley to those stimuli. If we leave hormonal responses of hunger, fear & sexual needs aside, we would not have a response had we not had a fermentation of our sensory loot. A babe cannot sigh till she has accumulated sufficient sense of irony or the ability to gather intensity till the point of climax. A babe has no concept of connect as she would connect to anyone who would feed. It is thus that adoption & surrogacy thrive as options.

Try this experiment with the most sensitive person you meet: In a monotone, explain the movie clip they are about to see. Tell them how everything ends well & the father saves his daughter. Make your friend aware that kids when asked how much they miss someone will more often than not throw their little arms wide open & that is cute & expected. They probably learnt it from their parents & recognised that it is considered cute (rewarded gestures). Explain each scene & dialogue & tear & smile throughout. Tell them how it was supposed to end well else there wouldn't be a movie to make of it. Then show them the movie interspersing it with "This is what I was referring to". The chances that this sensitive person will respond with all heart is fairly lower than when s/he was not made aware of the build up of emotions & climax. We are capable of that. We can want to stay under water to see how long we can hold our breath & emerge with a burst for fresh air. We love the rush of a culminating moment of emotion. We also love chocolate cake. And if you noticed, the child was just pleased, not emotional & all heart.

While all perceiving is through the window of the senses, how we assimilate all that flies in & how we synthesise it is individual & often not predictable. But repeatability is not the point here. Our innate sensitivity grooms & smudges what we receive into a notion & understanding of life creating a bouquet of responses which go by the name of "I". If the "I" cannot be located at a precise point two inches north-west of the navel, how did we ever get to decide whether "I" feel it in my heart or mind? You must have noted that I do not use the word brain save in the need to identify the collector of sensations. It is not the heart but a mix of how we hold perceived incidents & memory, allowing the same to curdle in the earthen pot of our soul (something that acts as a substrate as it doesn't govern what we receive as experience/events), that makes us who we are, both in demonstrations of intellectual ability as well as emotional capability.

If it is our brain's (and associated minions') window that gathers, if it is the soul, time & chance that brews what was gathered, if it is purely the assembly of life's events viewed through the entirety of being that creates a unique perspective, then where did we create the dichotomy between mind & heart? If we are comfortable saying that the heart thinks & vivisects, then let us simply address our varyingly dual personas as heart. If we cannot imagine the heart as inventing a new device, then let us say the mind feels & the mind thinks. Or pick another word! Just one!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

An Infinity Unknown

Take a minute & answer these question before proceeding to read: How was your time in school? What are the top 3 things you recall of your time there?

A dear friend asked me how I recall my days in school. I would have imagined a response like "It was fun" or "So much fun & play" or at least "It was so depressing" or "I met my husband/wife there" or something like that escape my lips but none of that sorts did. To my very surprise, I realised & muttered that my days in school were a string of shining & achieving. While I did enjoy myself thoroughly & had my own share of spats & mud-fights & puppy-love & infatuation for some teachers (some I am still in touch with), I don't seem to recall my school days as a span of learning & shock. What I mean by shock is what an old villager feels when he is shown how email works. The excitement with which he claps his hands when he gets a smiley on the chat screen from thousands of miles away is missing from my memory of school. To think that that is where I learnt nearly everything of life's fundamentals. It is poor solace that most people around me too recognise their school as something other than where they were surprised at what life had in store for them. It should not be immediately deemed an issue with the school system. Let us not view it as a problem.

Perhaps what surprises me is my mental romantic want that school would be remembered as an excursion where we discovered so many new things. Math, for instance, opened the doors to the world of numbers. Geometry & mensuration made the world of shapes so amazingly beautiful. Literature & the world of words which I play in was woven tale by tale throughout my schooling days. The human body & photosynthesis is still a magical realm to me. Refraction & how we would all tilt our head to view the pencil under water was brought to my eyes then. While I do not deny that I learnt all of this in school, I do not recall the awe or the surprise in discovering how echoes were produced. It was a fact that we were exposed to & then provided with the formula to compute various aspects of a problem using the time taken to hear an echo.

I remember a simple boyish conversation amongst a few of us who were exposed to the speed of light. We proposed that if I was 20 feet away from a candle (which was covered) and moved at the speed of light, then would I ever see the candlelight if I began moving away from the candle as soon as it was uncovered. The point was, since the light from the candle & I would move at the same speed, there will always be a difference of 20 feet between me and light. To think of light being held back like a stream of molten silver was amazing in conception & even today makes me nearly want to move that fast. That is the awe I refer to. The sheer amazement of using & studying a boomerang (yes, I went to YouTube to see how a boomerang is thrown).

I am not sure if the younger days in school are meant to provide the necessary tools so that those who are sensitive might explore & be amazed & those who aren't will make a living anyway. I would think that the initial years are when the child is likely to be stunned & amazed. To utilise the natural inclination for wonder is what I would think all of education should be about. Even if we eliminated tests & grades, our current approach to introducing a child to the wonders of this world would not focus on stunning the child.

It is not entirely clear to me whether wonder & amazement is best in retrospect. Do children merely see & get used, like a child using a smart-phone and thereafter finding nothing amazing about long distance communication or mobile apps or processor technologies? Adults who see a smart-phone for the first time are indeed amused & amazed at "how much technology has advanced" and hearken back to days when "all we had was a rotary phone & long distance trunk calls". Is amazement always in contrast? I recall the first time I saw a bike in a cage/steel sphere, I was amazed & also thoroughly interested in the notion of centripetal forces. I had nothing to compare it to - sheer adrenaline racing act! But a growing plant is hardly an awe-inspiring thing to a child until she sows the seeds & watches it grow, understanding all that it goes through.

I think schools denature knowing. Whether they do it consciously or not is secondary to this exploration. By capturing the flight of a bird into paragraphs of text about hollow bones & air currents we seem to steal away the opportunity from a child to watch birds & ask questions & seek to understand. By insisting that one be provided all possible knowledge even before curiosity or need arises, we are in essence removing the wonder of first encounter. I might never see a polar bear but I have studied so much about it that perhaps if I saw it in real life, I might be less amazed than if I knew nothing about it.

I think the question that remains is, can we essentially remain ignorant till need arises? What is the price we have to pay for that? Why can we not spend the early years in wonder & then grow organically & apprentice?

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Hazaaro'n Kwaishe'n Aisi - Mirza Ghalib

What began as a volley of tweets between @soHbet_ & me led to some interesting ideas & finally a culmination on a plan to translate 81 (my idea) or 5 (hers) of Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan's (Mirza Ghalib) remarkable ghazals. While his stature is nearly set in stone & should need least effort to acknowledge, much more than we imagined was demanded of the industry in choosing, and then translating his words. Much of the difficulty I shall hastily assign to the incongruence of tapping one language's spine & hoping it would cough in another tongue. English is best suited for poets who think & feel in the Anglic tongue. Urdu is best when one seeks to build a flight of stairs for the Gods to descend & delight in poetry.

We picked this particular ghazal of Ghalib's, called Hazaaro'n Kwaishe'n Aisi. If you must read the ghazal in the Devanagari script (although there are couplets which Ghalib never wrote), click here. If you wish to read the Arabic version of it, click here. If we wish to download the entire Deewan-e-Ghalib (no translation, only Devanagari & Arabic scripts in there), click here.

No poetic interpretation is wrong. They are at worst a poor dagger (as poetic daggers come) to cleave your heart. We shan't ever know what the poet originally meant. Here is what I think he might have felt. Please note: I do not translate "nikale" as "take". I have merely chosen "take" to help me weakly adhere to the rules of ghazals. "Nikale" has many connotations as each line below reveals. It can mean any of the following: to lose, to arise, to depart, to emerge, to remove, to turn out, etc.

Hazaaro'n khwaishe'n aisi ke har khwaish pe dum nikale,
Bahot nikale mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikale

Many are those wishes such that each, my breath did take
Many dreams have I lost (to Time), yet not much did it take

Darey kyun mera qaatil, kya rahega uski gardan par
Woh khoon, jo chashm-e-tar se umr bhar yoon dam-ba-dam nikale

Why must my tormentor fear that her neck shall have to bear
The blood, which in my tears this life's breath already did take

Nikalna khuld se aadam ka sunte aaye the lekin,
Bahot be-aabroo ho kar tere kuche se hum nikale

The expulsion of Adam from Eden is certainly much fabled, but
From your streets, my removal was with all the disgrace I could take

Bharam khul jaaye, zaalim, tere qaamat ki daraazi ka
Agar is turah-e-pur pech-o-kham ka pech-o-kham nikale

Should the illusion dissolve, vile one, on your stately mien
Uncoiling your tresses, revealing the truth, is all it would take

Magar likhvaye koi usko khath, to humse likhvaye
Hui subah, aur ghar se kaan par rakh kar kalam nikale

But must someone write to her, allow me to be scribe
Every dawn I left home & a pen, behind my ear, I did take

Hui is daur mein ma'nsoob mujhse baadah aashaamee
Phir aaya woh zaamanah jo jahaa'n mein jaam-e-jam nikale

Since then I've indulged & earned disrepute as a drunkard
Then came that time when the cup of revelations in my hand I did take

Hui jin se tavakko'h khastagee ki daad paane ki
Woh hum se bhi zyaada khastaa-e-teg-e-sitam nikale

In many I held the hope that they heal my wounded soul
But much worse were they in the jabs that Fate's sword did take

Muhabbat mein nahin hai farq jeene aur marne ka,
Usi ko dekh kar jeete hain, jis kaafir pe dam nikale

There is no schism in love, separating life from death
I live, gazing at the lover who, my every breath, does take

Kahaan maikhaane ka darwaaza Ghalib, aur kahaan vaaiz?
Par itna jaante hain kal woh jaata tha ke hum nikale

So separated the tavern door & the priest, Ghalib
Yet I recall, as I left the inn, the first step in he did take
Here is a reading of the ghazal:  
Hazaaron Kwaishen Aisi by Eroteme
As with all good poetry, mere translation is unsatisfying to the translator. What follows is my exploration into the possible meaning of it all. Please note, ghazals in their very design do not demand that the shers (couplets) be connected or related. Each sher can be about an unrelated theme as long as the rules are followed. You can find more about ghazals, here.
Is it merely my ability to extrapolate or is the ghazal genuinely pregnant with meaning? We might never know.
Ghalib uses the image of a lover, tormentor, assassin of the heart in different effects throughout this poem. While the lover could well be another human being, it might as well be one's notion of God or a state of being where none of these travails assail one. However, one wishes to shake interpretation out of that image, Ghalib wonders what frailty of the human soul spurs us to wish for more. One is well aware of the toll that hope takes on our soul, yet we succumb to its promise at the slightest ray of possibility. Some of us are such to not make much of all those wishes made & denied as if we can never have enough of being denied. The very fabric of wishing, cloaks us from what we have experienced & lays us bare to the thrashings of a new hope denied. Such is this desire to want, that stripped & clothed at once, we are in its throes.
Then what fear does any God or lover need to have? So powerful is this desire that I willingly walk into death, absolving all tormentors of the guilt of having driven me to there. In Urdu, "blood on one's neck" as translated from "uski gardan par woh khoon" is equivalent to the English "blood on one's hands" i.e. blame of misdeeds. A dagger's plunge does splatter the killer's body with blood. Ghalib asks - what does my slayer have to worry about? None shall blame the murderer who stands above a soul drained of all blood (life force) shed over a lifetime of tears (in wishes unfulfilled & hopes dashed). The utter helplessness of the soul is captured in this sher. Not only must he be a living dead, he cannot even hope for justice meted out to the tormentor but he must also reassure that murderer that s/he has nothing to worry about. Such is this soul's love for the granter of all wishes!
Often the celebrated one's trauma becomes more vital & renowned than what a common man walking the street goes through, but Ghalib avers, that his heart's implosion is perhaps more deafening if only we would cease to chant the tales of yore, of Biblical/Quranic/Tanakhic import which makes supreme suffering (in the common man's heart) petty by exalting the travails of Adam & other historic/mythological figures & thereby denying the sufferer even the right to feel comfort in that realisation that his wounds are indeed excessive & grand. Ghalib lends the heartbroken, belief-shaken soul an ear declaring that the dishonour was none less than the fabled disgrace of Adam.
Bharam is perhaps a corruption/variation of the word bhram (Sanskrit/Hindi, with the meaning of illusion/confusion). In Urdu it carries a possible connotation of "character or credit or worthiness". So at once, Ghalib cautions & praises the lover/God that either the illusion (of the God/lover's greatness) or the supreme fabric (of the same) would be revealed was he to tug at that twist of all understanding of the true stature of the God/lover. For a human lover, what he'll tug at would be the piled up tresses thus revealing the beauty or banality of the lover (the hair coming undone being the dramatic first suggestion to the following torrid love-making scene). For God that tassel to be tugged at would be to reveal the source of all Godliness & divinity, thereby either debunking the "God" as is popularly held or in the rapture of re-recognising what was the "original God". Either way, there are some who will be offended in the revelation & some delight in confronting truth in all its splendour. The unveiling, Ghalib says, will be convoluted & sinuous like the lover's tresses or God's "reality". Ghalib insists it is like the knot to which each generation has only added a twist & turn & wind but he knows of this one loose end which just needs a tug to find all knots & curls undone.
Ghalib, the ever-curious, insists on acting as scribe to all lovers/believers so he may understand the working of hearts & minds held in the hold of this magnificent beauty. Somehow he believes that by being the one to pen the letters to the God/lover, he would find the root of all suffering as well as the finest expressions of love which he may adopt in his personal letters. In being the scribe, he is laying bare the love of others for love, when described to another, making its innards known in words, is revelatory. By laying it bare he hopes either the lover sees the illusion of it all or Ghalib gains insight into the beauty of it. Either way, he always becomes the lover as he is the one writing what they wish to say. By being proxy to their gushing, he becomes the only lover that the God/lover will ever see. He becomes the essence of all lovers. And if nothing were to come of this, ever, he at least benefits by fuelling the writer in him. Thus Ghalib, in offering his services, stands to gain no matter what the outcome.
In pondering over love & being in the midst of lovers & pining for that one vision, Ghalib confesses to being drunk in the want for a clear sign. Such constant drunkenness earns the lover a reputation of a "madman" or "drunkard". Many will sober up re-earning societal accolades & good repute, but it is he who remains in that inebriated state who will find the portal to the worlds revealed promised in the mythological Cup of Jamshed's. Ghalib, being a poet, cannot discard the possibility that the madly intoxicating state a possessed writer lives in can very well be the gateway to all union with his lover/God.
Those who might come to aid to such a drunkard are dearly sought after, but most "wise" men are either feel-good godmen or priests blinded by words that were long dead. Thus, these men, cut by the sword of their respective Fate which brought them close to divinity & beauty but left them mere storytellers of a glory they have no clue about, these men, earn Ghalib's sympathy as a wounded soldier feels when he enters a hospital of a plague-inflicted town. These people who claim to right all wrongs, provide guidance to the passionately possessed or protect the ones madly in love are cripples themselves finding sanctuary behind their cloaks & social propriety.
For in love, absolute complete transforming love, there is no dichotomy of life & death, says Ghalib. Once in love, there is only loving. Once consumed by love, there is only that infinite existence gazing at the lover/God whose beauty takes away one's breath. Ghalib in one sweeping stroke dispels all cowardly love that treats love as an option, a practical consideration, a convenient avenue or a customary facet of life. None of that is love, says Ghalib, as the separation between living (and the practical choices) continues to thrive in opposition to death while that is impossible to be held thus, in opposition, in love. Ghalib's clarity in this matter of the heart is so simply stated but infinitely important & decisive. How can one be in love if there is a state of being that excludes the lover? Isn't love a complete immersion?
And everyone, every wise man, is aware of this though in fear turns his face away from this truth. The sheer intoxication of such love is beyond all rationality & plotting. One cannot to behave this way or that when in love as much as a convulsing epileptic cannot plan for his next seizure. This state of mindlessness unknown is frightening to the godly & ignorant alike. Were he not aware, why would he call me a madman, hiding his fear, his cowardice in invectives? He creates societal veils, moral walls to keep these who know the secret lest his cowardice be challenged, lest he be prodded to desert all sanity for the sake of a lover, it is easier to worship than to love. Thus, he pretends to keep his distance from the watering hole of such madmen & everyone chides Ghalib for even suggesting that the godmen must have an interest in the spirits. But, says Ghalib, he does recall many a day in his infinite past, when some godly men have risked entering the tavern of lovers, when they thought no one was watching.
With such ease, Ghalib moves from attacking desires & their multitude, to declaring how he too has been victim of human hope & want, bleeding dry, walking through all disgrace till he discovered that one key to all clarity. He jests while hiding his true intent of being completely immersed in the love of others as well as his. He then moves to describe the intoxication & why that is preferred to all sobriety. Such is this state that he realises that those who we are in the role to help are incapable to do so. He then summarises this state of love & its primary trait closing with the invitation & reassurance that all are welcome to this state of being as occasionally availed by the high priest himself.
While perhaps Ghalib might not have intended this, this ghazal is brilliant study in human psychology & even runs parallel to the Bhagavad Gita. In there, a confused Arjuna, besotted by desire to please, to conform, to gain the heavens, to be respected, approaches Krishna who assures him that the individual is neither killer nor killed, especially when the life is completely devoted to the Parabrahman. Krishna then reveal the one key to unlock all confusion, which he assures Arjuna is all truth. Arjuna then beholds Krishna in all splendour before being made aware of the complete immersion that bhakti brings about. The worth of mere word-content of the scriptures, & all purported aides (priests, et al) for the seeker is dashed to the floor by Krishna in later chapters. The oneness of the God in which life & death merge, where all dichotomy ceases is beautifully mirrored here in the ghazal as well. I am sure one can draw parallels to other works exploring the confusion of the spiritual soul.
Ghalib ensures that this ghazal is accessible to a common man who is in love as well as one who grows in love to seek the union with the Divine. Thus, in fairly simple words, Ghalib weaves a tapestry of remarkable import. Hope you enjoyed the work of this poetic genius.
There are 2 shers which are commonly inserted in this ghazal and passed around as Ghalib's work. They do not belong there. Their worth is not in question & is left to the reader, but their lack of authenticity has been ascertained beyond doubt. I will refrain from translating them.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Aaron Swartz is dead

Aaron Swartz is dead. He was pushed to the edge to take his life or face an unfair sentence in jail for 35 years. The US government, the FBI, MIT & JSTOR have contributed varyingly to his death. This is the price one must pay to be a citizen of a dictatorial regime like in the USA.

Whenever you subscribe to a feed (most likely RSS) or ever raise your voice against unfairness, please spare a minute to think of Aaron Swartz. He was a brilliant & good man who was killed for no reason other than the power the American government holds to victimise anyone they choose to. Few people out there are suspecting/concluding that it is due to depression. Frankly, if I were pushed against a wall with the threat of everything being taken away from me in the most painful manner, then that suicide, if I ever committed it, would not be a result of depression!

If you wish to know more about the case which pushed him over the ledge, read this:

Cory Doctorow's personal account of Aaron is very moving. Do read it here:

Quinn's personal account with him is captured in all tenderness here:

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tackling the rape problem

Why does one wake up only when something gross & vulgar as the recent gang rape & brutalisation of a 23 year old girl in New Delhi happens? It is not as if she was the 1st to be raped in India. She will not be the last, as well. That is the unfortunate fact of how we, as human beings, live. It sickens me endlessly to know that something like this happens around us, and I mean physically sickening. I write this post after recovering a little.
The reason I write this post is simply this: I am not an activist. I am a thinker. I am a problem solver. I am earnest in my urge to contribute in the best way I can to improve society & societal thinking - by writing & by debating. Not everyone must contribute in processions & slogan shouting. If anyone can use the points here & polish/implement this to improve the state of affairs, then I will consider my contribution worthy.
To me, the rape problem needs to be tackled at various levels. Education is vital but will not help all those who are currently walking the roads of cities & towns. Their brains are set to a large extent. Education too, is largely an act of hope. We hope that those whom we have educated will grow to live what they have learnt. This need not be the case. None of the white collar criminals were raised by families & schools which promoted dishonesty, yet they are, where they are. At the other end of the spectrum is the knee-jerk need for capital punishment. Rape, is often less premeditated than embezzlement (which can affect the lives of scores of people, depriving them of their hard earned savings etc.). Which should get a stricter sentence? I would leave that decision in the hands of less incensed folks.

What I outline below is a 9 step plan to significantly reduce the occurrence of rape without asking or expecting any change in the behaviour of victims. To expect that women behave this way or that is stupid. I cannot subscribe to that. If marrying off girls at the age of 18 or keeping them indoors is a solution, so does locking all men indoors solve the problem. Not creating an opportunity for rape doesn't mean hiding women or making them look undesirable. What a woman wishes to do with herself, her time, her preferences are her business. Even if those choices make her vulnerable, it is nobody's business to demand that she change them. It is the job of the government & citizen alike to ensure that we respect everyone's choices as long as they are restricted to themselves.
As a woman, what do I expect in a city to feel secure?
  • Safety on roads, public places, public modes of transport
  • Ready & immediate access to protection
  • Sensitive environment to seek redress
  • A healthy & mutually respectful environment
As a rapist, what will deter me from raping?
  • Someone always "watching"
  • Swift action by those around (citizens, police)
  • Absence of loopholes to escape from
  • Swift delivery of justice
Using these simple guidelines, here are my suggestions. I apply these suggestions to Delhi to provide an indication of practicality & feasibility. Applying it to other cities is a matter of arithmetic. There is little value in nitpicking details. The numbers below are for illustrative purposes & accuracy is not the intent. I proceed with suggestions that require least change in individual behaviour to suggestions that need some voluntary action.
Surveillance: Delhi has 28,508 km of roads (including national highways). Let's round it up to 30,000 km. If I had all the money in the world, I would install 4 CCTV cameras per km. That would mean that I require 120,000 CCTV cameras to cover the roads of Delhi. If 1 person can monitor 20 screens, then I would need to hire 6000 personnel to monitor the feeds from these cameras. Working in shifts of 6 hours, I would need 24000 personnel hired to man these screens. We would also need to setup rooms to house these screens & store feeds up to a week. If we place the mass production of CCTV cameras at 10K a piece (screen included), the total cost of installation is in the tune of 1,200,000,000 (120 crores). This is about one hundredth the cost of the Delhi Metro Phase 1. Yes, we need to provide salaries to the personnel hired. At 6000 per month (for working only 6 hours per day) the cost is about 14.4 crores a month. But it provides employment to the many who are not employed! So with a one time cost of 120 crores, an annual maintenance of about 50 crores & an annual resource cost of about 170 crores, this is far cheaper than the Delhi Metro project. Hence, I do not need all the money in the world. This is far less than the amount stolen by Kalmadi or other ministers. This is far less than the 2G scam numbers. Heck! This is less than what Satyam's Raju stole! For the government to state that this is too much money would be a shame. We'd rather have safer roads than the Delhi metro!
Beat cops: Delhi is 1484 square kilometers. Let's round it up to 1500 sqkm. If I had 4 beat policemen installed per square kilometer, I have them patrolling the area of 62500 sqmt per policeman. On a shift basis (again of 6 hours per beat), we need 16 policemen per square kilometer. This creates employment for 24000 people. At 6000 per month (for working only 6 hours per day) the cost is about 14.4 crores a month. Bicycles for them are (at the rate of 2500 per bicycle) expensed at 1.5 crores for the entire city. Given that all that a policeman has to cover is 62500 sqmt, a single round takes no more than 15 min. If the citizens participated in ensuring that the beat policeman did their job & aided them whenever possible, the city can easily be covered in about 175 crores per year. We can definitely take a mix of the options so far.

Simple alert: As a woman, I wish to be able to raise an alarm immediately without requiring complicated gadgets or complex education. If most electric utility poles and/or lamppost had a simple red button which, when I hit twice in quick succession (which one tends to do when desperately seeking help), would alert the nearest police station with the location from where this call for help arises, then I have tackled a simple problem of providing a quick & simple interface to raising a call for help. Since it is connected to the electrical system, it could easily be used to generate alerts in the local police stations. Again, given about 5 posts per km (i.e. at a space of 200 mt apart) & a cost of 50 per red button (mass produced), the cost of setting up the buttons is 0.75 crores. Add another 10 crores for the alert system in all police stations & we have an alert mechanism in place for less than 20 crores. Since the police are already there in the police station, no new staff needs to be hired. Since the button is a simple device placed at the height of 5' 4" on each pole it allows for most people to reach it. Accidental contact will be rejected as it requires two successive & rapid hits of the button. Worst case, there will be a few false alarms, but that is better than no means to raise an alarm. Railway stations, public arenas/malls etc. should also have these buttons. I would have them installed in every apartment & house too (many rapes happen at home as well).
Modern alerts: Citizens should be requested to install apps on their phone which make the alerting process simple & the subsequent process non-harrassing by the police answering the call for help. All mobile service providers must make this facility free of cost. Non-smart phones should allow sending a blank SMS-text to a nationally recognised number (across service providers) which lets the police home in on the location from where the SMS-text arose. Over and above the SMS-text reaching the nearest police station, the alert should also be sent to 3 other numbers that each person registers for this service. Citizens can sign up for receiving SMS-text requests coming around 500 metres of where they currently are. This lets people rush to help the (potential) victim.
Self-defence: All schools should make training their girls in self-defence, mandatory. Any woman who approaches the public utility store (ration shop) in their area should be provided a pepper-spray can free of cost. Since they cannot be sold, there is little corruption possible. Carrying one on your body is vital & family & friends will do well in reminding their lady-friends to carry one regularly.
With these in place, I would expect that the number of incidents of rapes (reported or unreported) would significantly reduce. India today reports about 25,000 rape cases a year which is about 1.8 per 100,000 people. Yes, it is much lower (unlike what Flavia Agnes reports in the first Tehelka link below) than in the West & many developed countries, but it is still a problem we can live without. We can deploy this solution in the top 5 cities where rape case are reported most, observe results, learn & improve the solution while deploying them in other cities over time. If this reduces the number of incidents even to a tenth of its current numbers, it is a solution well worth the cost. Speaking of costs, surveillance deployments help the police not only in tackling rape case but thefts, murder, etc. - multiple benefits.
How can we remove rape from its root?
Education: India struggles with providing education to most of its citizens. The education provided to the few, is mostly of a rudimentary literacy level and not education in its truest sense. Nevertheless, we must educate the future generations in being sensitive to human differences & variations. Sensitising children to each others needs, teaching them respect & caring for each other is far more important than learning calculus. Nearly all schools miss this obvious point. Teachers themselves are insensitive towards girl-children thereby passing on their archaic views to the young souls. Education is also not merely a matter of schools. Parents at home should also learn how to demonstrate this so that children grow to respecting women & each other. Educate your maids & your delivery boys. Educate the rickshaw drivers & vendors on the road. I talk to just about anybody who is willing to listen. Female infanticide is another reason why skewed sex ratios come into play leading to a milder voice of women in society. Right education will take many many years to right this wrong of perspective & view. It is nevertheless vital. Education is also required for girls to know how to conduct themselves in the unfortunate event of a rape (do not destroy evidence by bathing, report the issue to the police, seek help from citizen help organisations, etc.).
Sensitising public service: Police (men & women) are callous when treating rape victims. Their insensitive interrogation, their snide remarks on character (as revealed by the sting operation conducted by Tehelka on the police stations) & their lack of follow-up & support to the victims is unacceptable. Educating policemen, deploying more women in handling rape cases (though several complaints have been about insensitive women in the service) as well as in hearing them in courts, educating & supporting the family of the victims and never ever picking on the victim herself, are some of the means by which we can sensitise the service wings into making this entire process easier on the victims. It also discourages the criminals from assuming that "She won't get help anywhere" & carrying out his crime.
Timely legal process: Prolonging the agony often leads to the woman giving up or feeling shattered. It is vital to move swiftly on rape cases though not at the cost of making just decisions. Thorough investigation needs to be conducted to ensure that if a suspect is genuinely wrong, then he can be punished. Often the identified suspect need not be the one who did the criminal act. One must also ensure that his life is not affected/ruined unfairly. One must punish the criminal and also give him an opportunity to reform. To treat a murderer, thief or rapist as a lifelong criminal is something I am not in favour of. Yes, they acted wrongly, but are they beyond repair? If their are psychologically incapable of reform then they must be isolated but in humane ways. The current outrage & demand for hanging, capital punishment etc. are knee-jerk reactions which I do not subscribe to. None of the countries support that (to the best of my knowledge) & I do not find reason why India needs to be an exception.
Lifelong support: Rape victims as much as young witnesses to murder need lifelong emotional support. Once justice has been served, it is vital that the girl & her family are not ostracised from society or treated with condescension. The girl must be supported through her days of education, medical recovery & till she is in a position to live without support. Citizen participation is vital here. If none of those people who thronged the roads of Delhi in protest have the time to spare to aid & support a victim, their participation in those protests is as much as a farce as this government is. It is easy to raise hell but very difficult to silently & patiently participate in helping a girl grow up to psychologically live a normal life. I have signed am signing up for being a friend to any rape victim as long as she needs me.
With these 9 struts in place, I , as a woman, needn't fear life in a city. I, as a rapist, am deterred from performing my act & giving opportunity to reflect on things.

This is my contribution.
Lastly, do not support movies, advertisements or any other popular device of media where women are shown as naturally "keen" on being treated abusively (sexually or otherwise). Songs where the woman enjoys being spanked or stalker roles played by the "hero" only misguide the youth.
Some links to read:
  1. Some thoughts from various thinkers (some sensible, some reactionary):
  2. Why rapes will go on but what we can do:
  3. Delhi police: Why women deserve to be raped!
  4. She asked for it!


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Barbaric American Judicial System

Since I was aware of Aaron Swartz, I have asked nearly a hundred people (friends & strangers) the following sequence of questions:
  • A person is being prescribed 35 years in prison or $1,000,000 as fine. What are your 3 guesses to his crime?
  • If a person was found guilty of pouring acid on another helpless man and dragging other helpless naked men around on a leash and repeatedly (sexually) abusing helpless men & beating them up continuously till they are near death & then letting them heal to be beaten up again, how will you, based on your answer to the previous question, punish this person?
The answers only vary in their details. Every person I know (and this experiment has been carried out with friends across several countries) feels that the crimes must be heinous or massively exploitative to deserve 35 years and upon hearing the sickening details in the 2nd question prescribe punishments ranging from the electric chair to hanging till death that person & everyone associated with that crime.
Ladies & gentlemen, I present to you, the barbaric judicial system that is America. Here is a country that claims to be developed (you shall soon read about its laws against children), educated (surely you are aware of its gun laws & rates of homicide & rape) & a progressive democracy but is as barbaric as Stalin's gulag or even Hitler's camps (and the appendix to this post will provide data). To actually necessitate that the people keep reminding the government of what is right & what is democracy is equivalent to not finding it in the first place.
But this post wishes to raise the global consciousness around the victimisation of Aaron Swartz, a brilliant mind & colleague.
Who is Aaron Swartz? Aaron Swartz is a conscious soul who refuses to accept the status quo on matters of ethics especially the ethics that the American government & corporates take. He is a frequent television commentator and the author of numerous articles on a variety of topics, especially the corrupting influence of big money on institutions including nonprofits, the media, politics, and public opinion. From 2010-11, he researched these topics as a Fellow at the Harvard Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption. He also served on the board of Change Congress, a good government nonprofit.

He has also developed the site His landmark analysis of Wikipedia, Who Writes Wikipedia?, has been widely cited. Working with Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee at MIT, he helped develop and popularize standards for sharing data on the Web. He also coauthored the RSS 1.0 specification, now widely used for publishing news stories at the age of 14 and there is much more to his list of achievements.

He is currently facing 13 felony charges for which he would be slapped with 35 years in prison or $1,000,000 as fines. Yes, the same person in question 1 above. What he is alleged to have done was download several academic articles via a free account that was legally provided to him.
What is illegal in this act? Nothing. What he has been accused of is downloading "more than acceptable" amounts of these documents.
Oh! Is the academic journals storehouse pressing charges against him? No.
Is the institution (MIT/Harvard) who gave him the free account legally, pressing charges against him? No.
How much of a monetary loss has happened? None, because these very articles if downloaded over a period of 6 months instead of weeks would still amount to the stash they found on Aaron's laptops & it would have THEN been legal! Secondly, those articles are now publicly available!
So who exactly is pressing charges? The United States of America!!
Did some article written by the FBI or Obama, get downloaded!!? None.
Then, why? Victimisation.

As David Segal puts it, "It's like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library".

Here is the complete indictment charges against Aaron. Yes, there are points in it that make you wonder if what Aaron did was entirely correct! Perhaps not (if proven that he actually did them). Allow me to chronologically list things down (minus the drama):
  1. Swartz registered his computer under a fictitious name. This is not an offence. Very few people will register under their full name (unavailability is one reason). If I were in MIT, I would register as Eroteme. MITnet's Rules of Use do not prohibit one from using a pseudonym.
  2. He used a program to download content from JSTOR. Using a software program to download & manage downloads is not an offence. Most computer savvy people use one to accelerate downloads or thread them. Bots are not allowed by JSTOR as per their T&C.
  3. The rapid & massive download of articles impaired JSTOR's computers & threatened to misappropriate its archive. Threatened, not established. No, I am not talking legalese (while I could), but this has to be established else any download of tens of articles could be deemed as "threatening". Notional or perceived offence is not an offence. It is equivalent to my considering you a criminal because you come from a neighbourhood with a high crime rate (and the American judicial system has successfully created many such ghettos already. Do read the content on The Sentencing Project's site) & demanding that you be thrown behind bars with no further evidence required. Impairment of computers can happen for a variety of reasons. If the servers were designed poorly to only manage 10 concurrent requests, then anyone firing 11 might bring them down & can potentially be charged with downloading "massive" amounts of data. If the same 1000s of requests had come from across the globe, we would still find JSTOR servers buckling. Tonnes of sites go through this problem (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Aaron's intention, nowhere, has been proven to bring down JSTOR.
  4. The indictment charges claim that (point 18) Aaron stole those articles. This is baseless. By any definition of thievery, downloading of articles via a legal account does not amount to stealing! JSTOR still had those articles with them. That MIT & JSTOR resorted to means of preventing Aaron access is not equatable to recognising his activity as theft. If it were so, all they had to do was file a complaint with the police & verify each person whose computer was connected to the network using that IP. Neither of them did either of these options. They just rolled their eyes & decided to make it difficult for people to do this in future. And how? Read on.
  5. JSTOR blocked the IP, Who grants IPs? MIT. So what did Aaron do? Request and obtain a new IP. Who granted it? Yes, MIT again. So if getting a new IP was illegal, who performed the illegal act?
  6. JSTOR blocks MIT. Not because MIT was bad but because JSTOR didn't have the brains to secure their contents & prevent unmanageable downloads of their content. If they knew how to stop & later prevent a device from downloading "unacceptable" amounts of legally available data (which is why David Segal's statements make sense) they wouldn't have to make all MIT suffer. Is Aaron responsible for this? No. He wasn't stealing or illegally using any loopholes in JSTOR's systems. Frankly, he would have preferred more robust systems which would have let him complete his task without them buckling.
  7. MIT decides to not give that Acer laptop an IP. Note that MIT did not contact Aaron & warn him or physically remove him from the campus. What Aaron was doing was inconvenient & not illegal. So what does Aaron do in response to MIT's move? He changed his MAC address. MAC address spoofing is not illegal. Anyone with the right know-how can do it. If I changed my network card, the MAC address would change automatically. Had Aaron simply bought another network card & installed it, he would essentially be taking the expensive route to MAC spoofing.
  8. So far, nothing illegal in any of Aaron's activities.
  9. Point 19 tries to cry foul on Aaron's actions. It amuses me to see the bickering childishness of the claim. If all the users of MIT were to simultaneously download several thousand articles from JSTOR, it would have brought the system down & JSTOR would have blocked MIT. I have already cited the MITnet's rules of usage above. Refer to that & compare with the stupid childish claims made in Point 19. None of them hold water as we have already seen.
  10. Aaron obtains another guest account. To obtain another guest connection doesn't appear to be illegal else MIT (with all its remarkable brains) would have prevented it from happening.
  11. All the claims in point 21 have already been proven to be weak & desperate of the United States of America (the only plaintiff in this case).
  12. Aaron uses another computer to carry out his tasks. What is legal for the 1st computer is legal for the 2nd. Hence, nothing to add here. Together they brought down JSTOR's system. Nothing new there. JSTOR blocks MIT. Nothing new there too.
  13. Note the intensity of the "crime". In point 25, the United States of America shamelessly admits to the "horrific" nature of the "crime" committed by Aaron Swartz - he downloaded 2 million articles of which nearly half were research papers & remaining being reviews, news, editorials, and misc. documents. If I could download BBC's public content & in the sheer rapidity of my task, bring down BBC servers, am I a criminal?
  14. Points 26-28 talk about how Aaron plugged his machines directly into the switch without registering with MITnet's guest access services.
  15. Points 29-31 talk about his repeating all of that at another MIT building before being caught with the USB drive containing a program with "distinct similarities" to "".
  16. Point 32 summarises the volume of Aaron's act & Point 33 is the United States of America whining about why they are in the right for filing this case. Note the phrase "intended to" and not actually having done anything as claimed.
My points 14-15 are where things appear grey. Was Aaron right in doing that? Did he break into MIT's buildings? Then why didn't MIT file a complaint against Aaron? Were there any signs of breaking in? Why is none of that part of the whole story? Here is the motion to suppress all fruits of unlawful arrest. Please read through it carefully to understand the legal implications of the "evidence" used against Aaron.
Nevertheless, we can step out of the legalese & simply look at whether what was done (if assumed to have happened) was right or not. Maybe Aaron should have done differently. Maybe he should have not harassed MIT & JSTOR. Maybe he should have spread his downloads across months. Maybe he should have discussed with JSTOR into making this content available free (and they did make it publicly available after the incident). Maybe a hundred million things! Point is, all these "maybe"s essentially are coming up with ways by which Aaron could have been less of a nuisance. It doesn't say "He was wrong & a criminal". That is my point. Downloading an "unacceptable" amount of files otherwise legally available, is not a crime. Even if it is something to be discouraged, it doesn't count as felony! There are 13 felony charges against Aaron Swartz by the United States of American stupidity! Felony!? FELONY!?
The United States of American stupidity have claimed that there is a copyright infringement. But JSTOR was making them accessible via the university account. How then is it copyright infringement? Had he downloaded only 100 per day over 15 years would that be a copyright infringement? No. So why is it an infringement when all done in a couple of weeks? Here is the infantile response from the Copyright Alliance.
This is more like sneaking through a library window in the middle of the night and making off with the entire non-fiction section.
How? The articles he downloaded are still there with JSTOR. How is it theft, then? Given that he used a legal account/access mechanism to download content from JSTOR, he didn't sneak in through any window. Given that the articles are still there & available, he didn't "make off with the entire non-fiction section".
If the allegations prove true, the episode is revealing in numerous respects. First, of the mindset of those who engage in intellectual property theft. The indictment states that Swartz “intended to distribute a significant portion of JSTOR’s archive of digitized journal articles through one or more file-sharing sites.”  Sound familiar? This is no different than those who steal other kinds of copyrighted works and monetize them through advertising or through subscription fees, only in this instance the victims are a non-profit and educational institution.
I would hope that people trying to protect my copyright would be more sensible than this Sandra Aistars. There isn't any case for theft here, sweetie. The indictment states that Aaron "intended" which means he might not have intended to as well. Secondly, even if he intended to, it does not say that he would have made money out of it! So the rest of her babble doesn't make sense because it is baseless or only based on her paranoia. There has never been evidence (AFAIK) of Aaron monetising anything he intended to distribute. Even if you read his Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto you will find that he is dead against it. So where is there this suspicion of monetising what he has obtained? Ms. Aistars would do well in educating herself before continuing to make a fool of herself as follows:
These individuals are not “setting information free” as they like to proclaim. And they are not “removing the middlemen.” They are flat out stealing the work of others and using it to prop up their own commercial endeavors. It is the perfect example of the unapologetic belief that what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is also mine, and if I can get some venture capitalist to cash me out for millions or billions of dollars based on the traffic a library comprised of someone else’s lifetime of work has generated to my site, so much the better.
There is not a single point she makes about the exact nature of infringement that she condemns, because there is none. She keeps harping about the "stealing" that never happened & sympathises with JSTOR & MIT neither of whom have pressed charges because they are both sensible & aware of the lack of any theft.
Here is JSTOR's statement regarding this incident. Note what they have to say:
We secured from Mr. Swartz the content that was taken, and received confirmation that the content was not and would not be used, copied, transferred, or distributed.
Of course, you must note how they carefully word their statement. Not at one place do they state why it is exactly unauthorised. As I have mentioned earlier, if the same activity spread of 15 years is not unauthorised, why would it be when done over few weeks? JSTORs terms of conditions now have mention about denying use of software programs to automatically download content. Not sure if it was there earlier as well. Perhaps it was there. Which means that Aaron did something which JSTOR stated as unacceptable. Fair enough. JSTOR should be punishing him, but they aren't. They clearly state that they don't want to!
The criminal investigation and today’s indictment of Mr. Swartz has been directed by the United States Attorney’s Office. It was the government’s decision whether to prosecute, not JSTOR’s. As noted previously, our interest was in securing the content. Once this was achieved, we had no interest in this becoming an ongoing legal matter.
My point is simply this: Only JSTOR and/or MIT have the right to punish or seek punishment for Aaron and not the United States of American stupidity. By complaining against Aaron & in the manner in which they have, the United States of American stupidity has clearly demonstrated that they will twist anyone's arm if they, their friends, the corporates or anyone so pleases and there is no one who can do anything about it. This is called victimisation.
In case you wonder how corporates are involved here, please read this. And this is not the only way in which they are involved in all of this.
If you are convinced by the arguments laid down here, please visit:
and show your support. Please spread word about this trial. Please educate friends & family about the nature of this trial & what its implication are on individual freedom. What happens today in the USA could happen elsewhere tomorrow. If you care about the best in the human race (and there is very little to be proud of), then please demand that Aaron be freed or receive commensurate punishment only if demanded by MIT and/or JSTOR.
If all that interests you is this case, you can stop reading here (assuming you did make it till here). What follows is my take on the United States of American stupidity as demonstrated in its judicial system. The primary reason I proceed is to show how flawed, partial & unfair it is, which should help you decide why the prescribed sentence for Aaron is disgusting & inhuman. This also provides the reader for data behind the 2nd question asked at the outset.
Please click on the image above for a sample of unfairness. The crimes range over all possible acts of felony! This, is real felony & still none of them get anything close to 35 years in prison! But Aaron who downloads research articles gets 35 years in prison!
Here is where I would like people to revisit the notion of incarceration (and whatever fancy name we give it). Many researchers have argued that incarceration is not the solution & is often the problem. Here is an article that could get you started. United States of American stupidity imprisons an obscene number of people for the littlest of offences. I urge the reader to study the reasons behind why incarceration is not the wisest means to rectifying misdemeanours. Why not invest in correctional facilities which actually work towards guiding anti-social people? Aaron is not anti-social. I think once we understand why & when incarceration helps, many notions of law & correctness will fall into place.

Now allow me to ramble a bit about the elements in the legal system that make me roll my eyes!

While many prisons are indeed shutting down, the judiciary's mentality has not changed much. All you need to search for is crazy sentences (of up to 624 years) that have been slapped on wrong-doers. That doesn't even make sense.

What doesn't make further sense is the idiocy of the ex-President Bush. No, he is not an exception because he was elected twice by the people (which would mean that the current population of USA is an exception to the norm of generations that have populated that country). When Bush granted Toussie pardon, it did get many people angry. He did rescind it, but the entire act raised eyebrows. How can pardon be granted to scheming white-collar crimes? They are plotted & well thought out and not acts of frenzy or misguidance! 

Ramble complete!

The reason why I think USA is far from a progressive democracy is based on two aspects:
  1. The treatment of its own people, segregated based on race, affluence & alignment to its paranoid policies.
  2. The treatment of people who are not American via war crimes & interference in local governance.

While I have provided some evidence to the 1st, evidence to the 2nd point are best provided as references that the avid reader can go through. Allow me to summarise a statistic, though. Stalin's Gulag & Hitler's camps caused the death of several million Ukrainians & Jews, US war crimes (and it is fine to go back in history as Stalin's acts were of the 1930s) are nearly of equal number (counting Hiroshima Nagasaki, Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, Japanese war crimes, Gulf war, the Al Qaeda drama & the drone attacks amongst the many others) & mounting.

  6. The role the US had to play in Unit 731:
  7. Indirect damages:

How many of these crimes go punished? Virtually none! When a country is unable to be fair to its citizens as well as in its treatment of people of other countries, such a country needs to introspect & listen to the bitter yet vital advice of the wise people within & without. If the USA refuses this opportunity to tone down & introspect, it will be lost for good.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why you need a guru. Why you don't

This post is entirely an exploration. This is not a disclaimer but necessary identification of what will follow.

Most of the world falls into 3 categories: those who shun a guru, those who revere a guru & those who feel they could use a guru once in a while. Those who shun a guru, typically do so in the space of psychological or inter-personal conflicts. The very same person might revere a Drucker or Nate Silvers or some such expert in a field. Those who revere a guru might do so only in the space of psychological or inter-personal conflicts & only acknowledge domain experts. Those in between treat gurus as people who might be able to give a quick fix or seek a guru as a temporary shelter to gather their thoughts. In this post I do not acknowledge a guru as anyone in these domains or spaces. They are masters of a practice (including psychological guidance) & to revere them or not has very little psychological impact. In the Indian tradition (where the word guru originated), a guru is one who holistically guides the pupil, empowering them to proceed on their own & instilling in them sufficient sense/humility to seek aid when necessary. India has tales of the likes of Eklavya whose guru was a sculpture of a guru who refused to accept him as his student. Rarely ever was the guru solely for a particular skill. Over millenia, the guru became a teacher of a particular skill. Thus, the guru's influence on the pupil's well-roundedness waned.

This post restricts attention to a guru who guides a person in spiritual development. Interestingly, you will note, that if you replaced spiritual development with any skill with an added necessity for a more holistic approach, encompassing the other facets of life, the post still holds much relevance. The need to focus on this narrow set of gurus lies in the broad impact they have on many a person.

Those who have no inclination towards spiritual growth, don't need a guru. Those who attempt to reconcile with Fate or their own equations of Destiny might find solace in the words of an individual, but that is not spiritual development. Those words could come from a maid, a spouse, a neighbour or just about anyone. To chant & sing songs or dance to a frenzy are not aspects of spiritual development. They are at best means to shedding some deterrants to spiritual development but if they don't serve as that, then they are essentially a narcotic. To follow regimens, gather together with similarly inclined folks, to donate money for any cause, to proliferate "teachings" of an individual or establish large 100 acres campuses of some institution - none of this is spiritual development. One might try hard to convince oneself that this will eventually lead one to that, but so can smoking marijuana or starving oneself in a cave. If spiritual development is not the ardent thirst or if it is but a fringe benefit of it all, then a guru is nothing more than your drug to escape from seriousness. It doesn't matter whether you associate with him/her a God/Goddess or sobriquets of Baba, Sri, Amma, Devi, Swami or Guru. If the guru is unaware of your presence (and please do not trick yourself into thinking that the guru knows all) & is not aiding you in spiritual development, then the guru is not your guru. If your argument is "All I seek from him/her is his/her blessings & my life is fine" or any similar consolation, then you are effectively treating your guru as some good-luck charm. If you belong to the fanatic group of followers who believes that their guru is the only guru, then clearly spiritual development is far removed from your agenda & there is nothing more to discuss. We can discuss awe-inspiring magician tricks elsewhere.

A guru has the following traits:

  • Does not indulge in sophistry & is solely focused on clarifying (by questioning or hinting or leading)
  • Is immensely involved in your spiritual journey
  • Clearly seeks to liberate you
  • Ensures that the means employed cater best to your nature
  • Does not trade spiritual development for things you currently possess or can procure (esp. of a monetary nature)

All other traits that the gullible human mind associates with a guru are irrelevant. These include:

  • Must be charitable in nature & have built hospitals & schools & regularly provides food for the needy.
  • Must be asexual or never indulge in sex or be disinterested in food & other "material" elements of life
  • Must always talk about love & human oneness & embrace everyone
  • Must have a large following especially a global one
  • Must have some regimen (singing, dancing, breathing techniques, yoga, etc.) associated with him/her
  • Must have some role to play in social improvement or politics
  • Must have some healing or magical powers

How can someone who has a high sexual libido ever guide me spiritually? The same way someone who has no sexual drive can! What is required for your spiritual development can spring from clear mountain springs or from mire. To treat the act of sex as vile makes our very birth an act of vulgarity including the birth of the guru who is now asexual & revered!

Ok, what about love? How can anyone develop spiritually without being told that to love all & serve all is the way? A "guru" who repeatedly tells you that a sunrise is ugly cannot make you not hold your breath everyday morning. On the other hand, any amount of my telling you to love all doesn't make you love someone who is being brutally critical of you. If the clarity of Love resides in you, you do not need to be told this repeatedly and by not being told, you do not burn down that seed of Love in you.

And what's wrong with charity? A guru can be charitable only if he possesses wealth. If he does then it will be exhausted some day unless he keeps replenishing it by extracting more from his followers (or indulges in business which is a "material" pursuit). None of the charities or establishments are in the name of the million followers of a guru. They are always in the name of the guru who contributed nothing in terms of charity. "Be charitable". Now that I have said that & you read that, would you agree to naming your every act of charity as the magnanimity of Eroteme? It gets uglier when we dig deeper into the mechanics of the so-called charity of these organised houses of gurudom. I shan't go there. To be charitable is irrelevant to spiritual development. It might come of its own accord.

What is spiritual development? What is the ambit of the spirit? What is the spirit? What remains once the chattering of an ignorant and/or mechanical mind have quietened down, in there lies the spirit. Why should I develop that? There is no need to develop it at all. One can keep sharpening the saw of their profession & remain content till their last breath. There is no mandate that everyone must feel a thirst for spirituality & must develop it. Some people feel it well within, some people don't & some people are curious about it as one is curious how that odd-looking dessert might taste. One spoonful, and they move on.

A spiritual thirst exists in one who is dissatisfied with the routine of life & wishes to understand more. They are not disappointed or discontent with life, just dissatisfied with the amount they know and the routine of life. This might seem like the space of philosophical enquiry. If it remains there, then that is what it is. But occasionally, the spirit within feels a deep connection to the Divine "without". There is a great dissatisfaction in not knowing the fabric of that connection. There is a constant urge to connect to the Divine & understand all of life, creation, existence, thought, mind, breath, time & timelessness. This thirst becomes prominent when the delights of common life do not distract. A marriage, a new-born child, a new car, a promotion, a death, a travel to exotic locales - none of this quietens the voice of the spirit within. Then, and only then is there a need for spiritual development. Then and only then can the question of whether we need a guru or not, arise.

Like every upheavel, there are phases. Initially there is angst & confusion, followed by a seeking, a searching. Then there might be adoption (of a teaching or guru) followed by practice & doubt. No matter what the phases are, they eventually end in a calm, a placid mind & soul which simply knows without discerning. Once there is union with the Divine, there is completeness & in there the boundaries of life, creation, existence, thought, mind, breath, time & timelessness (as a notion) cease to exist. The nature of the phases is of lesser importance than the necessary character of the nature of the final phase. The roads to there are many.

Does one need a guru in this cycle of phases? Perhaps. Is it impossible to swirl through these phases & arrive at the final stage without a guru? Certainly not. One doesn't need a guru to connect one's spirit with the divine. Nothing in the guru can replace for the spirit within. All that the guru can do is channelise & spare the individual the hardship of discovering everything by oneself. The guru can also help re-align an individual's misdirected curiousity if his/her time is not right for spiritual development. In that sense, the guru is aware of why, how, when & what exactly needs to be provided for this individual's spiritual development. That would be a guru of the highest order. Most other gurus can help the person discover him~/herself & thus navigate the phases. Whichever mode is employed the guru always lets go of the individual's hand when they are ready to move on to communion with the Divine. That final leg, is an individual journey. No one can proxy for the seeker. The guru is the boat that might help you cross the choppy waters of the ocean. While the average guru might be able to help you as much as is possible, only the guru of the highest order knows with certainty what will happen from the minute before you arrive at their doorstep.

By this measure, none of the popular gurus out there count. They are celebrity showmen/~women who are clever/creative in how they word things & in mesmerising large audiences. Do they help in anyone's spiritual development? No. Those who believe they are spiritually realised, will perhaps realise that their spiritual journey would have happened even without these celebrity gurus who give grand speeches & sing songs & do all the publicity stunts they must.

What is worse is when these celebrity-gurus essentially create a binding dependence thereby making the devotee (sic) feel inadequate without the guru. Tales abound & online fora are plenty where blinded followers reveal their fantatic side. To see them thus after sufficient association with a "guru" convinces me that these celebrity-gurus are clearly after something else.

In summary, you need a guru if:

  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & you are lazy
  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & you are ill-equipped to cross the initial hurdles
  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & you are afraid
  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & you are confused

You don't need a guru if:

  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & it is strong enough to guide you through the phases (even skip some of them)
  • Your spirit doesn't needs re-connecting with the Divine & all that you seek is some kind words or salve or sedative/narcotic
  • All you have are questions that need answers. A go-to person is not a guru

Personally, I prefer an anonymous guru who is a realised soul & who can liberate me from my ignorance. Both of us would vanish into anonymity.

It is thus that I re-recognise the wisdom of Master Oogway. Such is his vastness & calm that even when he knows that the messenger is the indirect reason for the unleashing of terror, he doesn't prevent Shifu from sending him. A true guru is a trikaalagnani (one who is aware of all time and hence, doesn't fragment it into past, present & future). Master Oogway was that and more. Not only was he the finest in Kung-Fu, he was also at peace in leaving the Jade Palace behind in the hands of a Panda & bunch of people whose Destiny wouldn't defeat Tai Lung. To be aware of what Time has in store without a preference, is the mark of a realised soul. That is the mark of a guru. Po never sought his guidance, but was touched by it. Shifu sought his guidance with a mind full of doubt & was transformed. Different strokes for different folks.

Master Oogway